And now we all learn how to spell "lieutenant"

For observers of the MN-GOV race, particularly the DFL side, we now enter the strange lull before the April 23-25 DFL Convention in Duluth. Naturally, the candidates planning to go “all in” for the endorsement will be calling the thousand-plus voting delegates and doing events around the state. The only other thing they can do to change the current “conventional” wisdom (wocka wocka) is roll out endorsements or name their running mates.

Well, John Marty was first out the gate today to announce his running mate, State Senate colleague Patricia Torres Ray. Yesterday, Iron Range lawmaker Tom Rukavina garnered the endorsement of Congressman Jim Oberstar. The day before that R.T. Rybak announced the support of several legislators (and automatic delegates) from all over the state, all of this with the assumption that House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher already has dozens of superdelegate endorsements from her caucus. And everyone else has been endorsed by someone, for some reason, at some time. There is more of this to come.

Today I’m going to talk about the implications of the early April maneuvering by DFL candidates and offer a few ideas for general consumption.

Let’s start with the hard truth of this whole topic. No one actually wants to be Lieutenant Governor. Anyone who wakes up each day with the desire to become the Lt. Governor and who works to achieve that goal is a sad, sad individual — even by political standards, which are notably lower. The Lt. Governor generally has little independent influence on the actions of the Governor and, when they have attempted as much, or taken on additional duties in an administration, it’s turned out mostly bad. As far as the public knows Lt. Governors do what their job intends: nothing, until and unless the governor dies or leaves office for a variety of uncommon but not unheard-of reasons. And then it sure as heck counts, doesn’t it?

The wrong Lt. Governor can lose an election, either the one they are in or the unexpected election that might come later. Who was that guy who was governor of Wisconsin after Tommy Thompson resigned to become President Bush’s HHS Secretary? I tell you what, I was going to college in Wisconsin when that happened and I still don’t remember. I’m not even going to find out using the little search bar on the corner of the very screen I’m looking at now. It’s just that insignificant. He lost.

Being a Lt. Governor might be important inside the management structure of an administration (usually not) and it’s a handy position to keep a hatchet person for political attacks (press agents are more affordable and disciplined). But mostly it’s a ceremonial role held by people who want to serve the governor and/or raise their own profile for higher office. Rudy Perpich famously said that the only way an Iron Ranger would get to be governor would be through the “back door” of Lt. Gov. and it worked. While he was ousted with other DFLers in the Minnesota Massacre of 1978, Perpich built a profile that allowed him back into office in 1982 and to become the longest serving (and STILL most recent DFL) governor. But had Perpich not clawed back to relevance of his own volition he’d be just another name on the list of Lt. Governors who few remember outside of their time.

There are two frontrunners in the endorsement race. There is an 80-90 percent chance the endorsement falls to Rybak or Kelliher. That leaves 10-20 percent for a spoiler or compromise candidate — most likely Paul Thissen but I’m leaving a tiny window of hope open for my Iron Range homeboy Rukavina. Marty is least likely to win the endorsement, but I respect his style so I’ll give him a sliver of “why not?” hope anyway. Others will bring high hopes to the convention, too, but the candidacies of Mark Dayton, Matt Entenza and Susan Gaertner are increasingly primary-focused and the delegates are unlikely to reward that with an endorsement.

Properly played, the Lt. Governor choice could be a pivotal game changer either right before, during, or right after the convention. The “when” in this situation is wholly dependent on the situation. The front runners might be best advised to wait until just after the convention to make a play for DFL primary voters. Everyone else might not have that luxury and may, in hockey vernacular, pull their goalies to get the extra bump at the convention.

As I’ve said, I recommend the #2 spot be held by an Iron Ranger. This would solidify the DFL base and give the ticket, regardless of which metro candidate heads it, a regional and stylistic balance. Everyone thinks I’m talking about Rukavina when I say this, and Rukavina would be great. But I don’t know if A) he wouldn’t rather be a commissioner with more influence on specific policy, or that B) he’d want to rein in his trademark outspoken style for 4-8 years. Former gubernatorial candidate Tom Bakk would also be a great choice. Rukavina and Bakk could probably move the most immediate convention votes. But there are other Rangers with great bios, both in and out of the legislature, who could move some convention votes and an equal number of primary votes later. And Duluth might even be OK … in a pinch.

After all the political intrigue of this business has been wrung out, I would like to see whoever turns up in this job to then do something compelling with it. How about keeping an office somewhere in Greater Minnesota? How about finding a role for the Lt. Gov. office that would justify its expense? This is more than a political problem; it’s an administrative one. Regardless of who is selected and, of course, who is actually elected, this business of horse trading is old school. Is it wrong that I find it so fun to talk about?

Probably yes, but it’s too late now.

DISCLOSURE NOTE: I am an elected, uncommitted DFL delegate from Itasca County. I have favorites in this race, but am not publicly endorsing anyone until I feel there’s some reason — most likely when I’m handed a ballot and am compelled to write a name there.


  1. What do you think about Melanie Ford? She would keep the tradition of the Lt. Gov spot going to a woman alive (assuming the Gov candidate is a man), and her jurisdiction includes both Duluth and the Range.

  2. I’m embarrassed to say so, but I hadn’t thought of Melanie until you mentioned her name. She’s got the whole “broke the status quo” backstory with her election and St. Louis County is a big one (literally) and a populous one that includes Duluth and the Range. Considering that one of our Senators was a county attorney prior to election that wouldn’t be a bad stretch for any of the frontrunners in this race. Add her to the list! Anyone else have thoughts on names?

  3. Aw, crap, looks like Ford is listed as a supporter of Susan Gaertner. I suppose this renders Ford’s chances of getting the #2 spot pretty slim for obvious reasons.

  4. Ahhhh … you’re right. Lots might change in that area over the next few months, but that would prevent a convention selection anyhow.

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